Squinter review of the year

By Squinter

JANUARY

STILL no sign of the firebomber who ran through the bustling streets of pre-Christmas Belfast with his head and shoulders on fire in a scene straight from the cover of a famous Pink Floyd album. No arrests, no developments, no CCTV footage, even, in a city bristling with meerkat-like cameras.

When Squinter was a boy, the Makey-Uppy blokes tried to dissuade people from carrying incendiary devices into the city centre by claiming that the static electricity from knickers, trunks, tights and trousers was making firebombs explode prematurely with distressing results. Plus ca change. Perhaps we’ll see the evidence or the CCTV footage eventually, but Squinter’s not holding his breath.

A less dramatic incident last week also remains to be cleared up by Inspector Trevor. According to the DUP, a baying mob of republican fanatics boarded a bus on the Cavehill Road and began pelting Protestant schoolgirls – two of them reportedly pregnant – with eggs. According to the PSNI it was one teenager. North Belfast Councillor Gareth McKee appealed for anyone with information to give it, and he also appealed to the community for “calm and no escalation”. He’s right – if the water balloons come out it’s bound to be civil war.

So now teens (DUP) or a teen (cops) pelting other teens with eggs is a threat to the peace process. If that’s the case then Squinter and the other 31 boys in his class will shortly be handed over to the International Criminal Court.

 

FEBRUARY

A BIG response to Squinter’s recent piece on Buckfast and the fact that it’s not big in West Belfast. Some readers got in touch to say that West Belfast is not opposed to fortified wine, per se – rather it once preferred another brand, of which today little is known.

They reminded Squinter that in the 1970s and ’80s the sophisticated West Belfast street drinker enjoyed nothing more than a bottle of QC fortified British wine, which at 15% volume is exactly the same strength as Buckfast. It was a classy product, much more sophisticated than Buckfast. Where Lurgan Champagne has assertive undertones of battery acid and cat sick, the West Belfast Commotion

Lotion had subtle hints of cough mixture and custard. Indeed, QC was so high-end that it was advertised on TV – a chic couple at a drinks party (above right) seductively sipping while guessing what the letters stood for: Quietly Classic, Quite Cool, Quintessential Clarity, Quality Counts, Quare Craic (although Squinter might well have misheard that last one).

Then there was Mundies (Mundys?) Fine Old South African Tawny, which was the tipple of choice of yer proper boozebucket. An underage Squinter and the boys shared a few bottles one night round the back of Buncrana Flats – an experience which, while never to be repeated, has stayed with him to this day thanks to the horribly vivid memory of the ruby-coloured boke which was later deposited on Buncrana green.

Sadly – thankfully? – you will today search the wine shelves of the offies of West Belfast in vain for either of these estimable beverages, which have gradually fallen out of favour with street drinkers of all rank – from the doughtiest 24/7 Castle Street veteran to the callowest weekend street corner youth.

All of which is all very well but leaves unans-wered the cen-

tral question

that set Squinter off on this vini-

cultural odyssey – how come hardly anybody in West Belfast drinks fortified wine (i.e. Buckfast) when they can’t just get enough of it up the country? Maybe we’ve just moved on…

 

MARCH

WHY on earth did Anna Lo describe Our Wee Pravince (OWP) as “artificial”? Could it be in any way connected to the fact that a line based on a sectarian headcount was drawn across the north-eastern corner of the island because of a direct threat of violence by anti-Home Rule elements?

Perhaps, or maybe Squinter just imagined that little bit of our history.

Anyway, when the dust and the smoke cleared, when the screaming ceased and the bodies were cleared away, we had learned something about OWP. While you are definitely not allowed to pursue a united Ireland by means of blowy gear and guns, you are not not allowed to do so by use of your mouth either. Loyal Ulster doesn’t like it.

The real reason that OWP blew a gasket over the Anna Lo comments was that a woman with personal experience of colonial history – Anna is a Hong Kong Chinese – placed the Irish question in a historic colonial context, whereas unionists expect us to believe that these six counties were handed down from God in an act of divine munificence and that they just suddenly and magically appeared. Hence the Teddy’s bear’s head logo so favoured by loyal Ulster.

OWP’s big secret is that for all the flags and all the drums and all the vainglorious hot gospel rhetoric, the defining trait of the northern state is insecurity – has been for 90 years and more. They know the history perfectly – they just prefer to pretend it didn’t happen. And while they might wince or snarl when reminded of it by those pesky Irish rebels, when they are reminded of it by an outsider-insider like Anna Lo, it comes as a particular kick in the Londonderriere. In fact, it’s precisely because of this insecurity that the drums are so loud, the flags so big and the guldering so loud.

It’s also why for the unionist media being pro-united Ireland is an accusation, to be put to Anna Lo as though she’s admitted microwaving cats or robbing pensioners. And the supposedly liberal middle class unionist types are also ten times more scandalised by the words of Ms Lo because of her ethnic background, happy as they have been up to now to be nice to her to prove their multicultural bona fides – just so long as she toed the line that OWP is a great wee place altogether.

Of course, the unionist reaction to Ms Lo’s remarks is infinitely more damaging to the union that anything that the Alliance Party MLA actually said. For, as Squinter has said time without number, the biggest blow that unionists could deal to republicanism would not be to get the flag back up or march past places from which they are currently barred, it would be finally to give OWP even the merest scintilla of normality, something it has never had since that artificial line was first drawn.

And allowing people to debate the future in an atmosphere of reason and calm would be one way of doing that. But no chance. The hysterical reaction to Anna Lo’s words (that’s outburst in Ulster-Scots), is the same today as it would have been in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

 

APRIL

SQUINTER’S driving home after lunch in Newtownards on Friday (don’t ask) and he stopped on the main Outer Ring near the Belvoir estate to examine the road surface.

This is what happens when loyalists are left alone to express their culture by Sinn Féin/IRA. The mess left by last July’s Twelfth boney extended out from the grass and pavement and melted half the road. Squinter has written about this particular state of affairs before, back at a time when the Roads Service was in the habit of fixing the mess the morning after the night before.

Not this time. This time the road has been left melted for more than eight months, and with the marching season rapidly approaching it’s likely it’ll be left this way until the time comes for South Belfast loyalists to burn it again.

But given that the top layer of tarmac has gone, what’s going to happen when this year’s bonfire takes off another layer of road? Squinter’s no civil engineer, but he suspects that while burning a main road once is not the best idea in the world, burning it twice is liable to be a recipe for disaster. Unless in that part of the city they don’t have pipes for gas and electricity and water running under the roads like they do elsewhere.

The Department for Regional Development knows what’s going to happen this year, because it’s their road and it’s their job to look after it (and they also know because Squinter’s called them a few times to ask about it). Presumably the police know what’s going to happen because while there are many who doubt the PSNI’s efficiency, it’s probably fair to say that they’ll notice when an 80-foot blazing inferno stretches across one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. And we know the Fire Service know about it because,well… because they’re the Fire Service.

So what do these three estimable bodies propose to do about the Milltown Road-Melters in the Year of Our Lord 2014? Clearly the DRD and the Fire Service are not the police, but they could easily make contact with local political reps and ask them if, um, perhaps they could intercede with the local boney-builders and prevail on them not to set the road on fire this year. As for the police, Squinter’s fairly sure that if he or anybody reading this started laying tyres and pallets on the Falls Road pavement they’d have something to say about it. So how come they stand idly by and allow it to happen at Milltown?

Looks like we might well be in for another long, hot summer.

 

MAY

Up at Camp Twaddell, Big Geordie and co were tweeting about politics as the

European election neared…

n The camp committee has been considering the seven unionist Euro candidates. Here’s a brief précis of where we are with them at the minute…

 

n @JimAllister A true son of Ulster, but no barrel of laughs. Hair over the ears suspiciously bouffant. Smile would frighten a police horse.

 

n @MarkForEurope Local Tory with less hair than Jimbo. Hasn’t been seen at Woodvale and never darkened the caravan door. We’re not convinced.

 

n @DianeDoddsMEP 4ins smaller than mini-Maurice Morrow – if she calls we won’t know whether to vote for her or put her on the mantlepiece.

 

n @Anna4Europe Alliance nominally pro-union, but she’s a rebel, red in tooth and claw. She and Naomi Long are like Ulster’s Brides of Dracula.

 

n @Tina4Europe A Lenadoon cuckoo in the unionist nest. Basil and John may have been fooled by the big hair and the lip gloss – but not Ulster.

 

n @JNicholsonMEP Makes Mike Nesbitt seem dynamic and charismatic. His election posters have more depth and substance. Still, he’s one of ours.

 

n @HenryReillyukip He’s our big loyal teddy bear. Has done great work lately in improving Kilkeel – it used to be a hole, now it’s just a tip.

 

JUNE

THE contribution of the loyalist people of Finaghy to outreach and compromise has been to put up flags at the crossroads that are twice as big as usual. Squinter estimates they’re the size of a duvet on a king-size bed (or perhaps a queen-size bed might be more appropriate).

Squinter gave off about it on Squinter and some bloke describing himself as a Finaghy unionist retorted that the flags went up, as they normally do, ahead of a loyalist band parade in the area. He neglected to mention the small fact that they are left up all summer until they turn into filthy red, white and blue rags and then finally disappear. The good news is that these things are so large that the elements will no doubt take their toll much more quickly than is normally the case.

Add to that the fact that the loyalists have started using plastic ties instead of wood and duct-tape and the annual Finaghy flags furore could be even shorter-lived. The ties mean that the flag flutters on just two pressure points and the evidence across the city is that one is likely to give out relatively quickly, leaving a long, anonymous streamer as hostage to the wind and rain. You’d think that the people who built the Titanic wouldn’t make such basic engineering gaffes, but you’d be wrong – a quick glance at the mess they make of painting lampposts will confirm that.

Concludes next week.

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